Muskoka Lakes latest Ontario town to declare emergency from flooding

BRACEBRIDGE, Ont. — The ongoing flooding plaguing Ontario’s cottage country prompted another town to declare a state of emergency on Sunday as members of the Canadian Armed Forces descended on a nearby community to help with sandbagging before more rain arrives.

Muskoka Lakes declared a state of emergency on Sunday after water levels in its namesake lake rose by 12 centimetres over the past 24 hours, said its mayor Phil Harding.

“All estimates are suggesting that the water is going to continue to rise… Our primary concern in doing this is the safety of our residents,” he said during a press conference.

Muskoka Lakes is the latest community north of Toronto to take this step, after Huntsville, Minden Hills and Bracebridge all declared emergencies in the past week due to the fast-rising floodwaters.

Bracebridge called the Canadian Armed Forces for more help in the battle against the flood as the forecast signals there is more rain on the way.

Mayor Graydon Smith said that while there are dry conditions for a couple of days, the 25 millimetres of rain forecast for Wednesday means that the already-high water levels will take longer to recede.

“While we’re expecting things to come down in portions of the watershed over the next few days … Wednesday could throw a bit of wrench into it,” Smith told reporters Sunday morning.

Dam in downtown Bracebridge Ontario can’t hold back the swollen waters of the Muskoka River on Sunday, April 28, 2019. Fred Thornhill / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Lt.-Col. Graham Walsh told the same press conference that a group of reservists based in the Toronto area will deploy a total 60 soldiers to help with emergency efforts in Bracebridge.

Thirty soldiers were already on site with the remainder to follow, he added, and their immediate plan was to help with sandbagging.

Smith has said his town is dealing with a flood of “historical” proportions, with both higher water levels and more homes and residents affected than during the devastating floods of 2013.

“If you go down and look at the Bracebridge Falls area, we’ve got a dam where the water is going straight over the top of it, and infrastructure that we built after 2013 … that’s completely submerged.”

He told reporters on Sunday that roughly 27,000 sandbags have already been distributed in the community, and he expected the flood conditions to linger for “several more days.”

“We’re monitoring future weather closely, and hopeful that precipitation is minimal over the next week and that the system has a chance to flush itself out,” Smith said.

He said the rushing water is moving incredibly fast, and urged people not to drive on closed roadways, while noting that people have been seen on Jet Skis and in a boat near the mouth of the river.

In addition to the danger due to what Smith called a “massive amount of debris” in the surging waters, those “touring around” were hampering sandbagging efforts, he said.

“There were people down there actively trying to sandbag their properties and then they had to deal with the wake off these watercrafts… That’s unacceptable,” he said.

In nearby Minden Hills, Mayor Brent Devolin said the water levels remain high but sub-zero temperatures overnight helped to stabilize the flooding.

Like Bracebridge, the forecast calls for more rain by Wednesday or Thursday, but Devolin said he is not expecting to require help from the Forces.

“We’ll continue to watch and monitor, and obviously those people in those flooded areas should continue to be diligent … but I feel better than I did a couple of days ago,” he said.




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